Where is God? This is a question we’ve all likely asked on more than one occasion. Where was God during the Shoah? Where was God in Parkland, in Pittsburgh, and in all of the other places where tragedy has struck?
In difficult times we so often worry that God is absent. Indeed, it can feel that way. But I’d like to suggest that in this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we learn of a very different way to understand God’s presence in difficult times. When God tells Moshe to go to Pharaoh and to ask Pharaoh to let the people go, the words we read are, “bo el Par’o” – literally, come to Pharaoh. How can this be? What does “bo” (come) mean in this context? And note, most translate this phrase as “go to Pharaoh” because it makes more sense!
Let’s learn from this literal translation that when God says “bo” – come to Pharaoh – it is because God is there in Pharaoh’s palace – and in all of our dark times. We cannot see God, we cannot understand God, and we cannot appreciate God’s presence and impact in difficult situations. And yet, what this text teaches us is that we need to understand God is there in the difficult times, even if it doesn’t seem logical. That’s what faith is all about: trusting, believing, hoping, and assuming (yes, a bold word choice!) that God’s presence might impact our lives in ways we cannot know.
We’ve all been there – our own personal version of Mitzrayim, Egypt, the narrow place between despair and hopelessness. And we’ve all likely had moments when we have needed to confront our own personal Pharaoh. Like Moshe, we might stutter, tremble, and wish it was someone else in our sandals. But like Moshe, let us seek God’s presence. We cannot understand God’s ways, but as we confront challenging situations, let us try to recognize God’s impact on our lives.
Rabbi Ilana C. Garber ’91, Rabbinic Director of Lifelong Learning & Community Engagement, Beth El Temple, West Hartford, CT